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Best of 2019: Cpl Kasari & the red bicycle

Corporal Kasari inspecting police with kiap John McGregor at Olsobip  1968
Corporal Kasari inspecting police with kiap John McGregor, Olsobip,  1968

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Lance Corporal Kasari RN1297 RPNGC was something of a legend in the Western District in the late 1960s.

If you had some rough patrolling to do in the rugged mountains or tumbling rivers in the northern part of the district Corporal Kasari was the man to have at your side.

If it was a routine patrol and you needed someone to run the patrol post while you were away Corporal Kasari was always your first choice.

Patrol Officer John McGregor summed up the good corporal in one of his patrol reports out of Olsobip in 1968:

“Very capable leader of the detachment, who set an excellent example for his subordinates by hard and energetic work. His knowledge of bush craft and initial contact work was very beneficial to the patrol. At this stage, recommendation for promotion to full corporal should be considered”.

I first encountered Kasari at Olsobip when I took over as Officer in Charge in 1969. Despite John’s recommendation he was still a Lance Corporal.

I worked with Kasari at Olsobip, Nomad River and at Balimo, down in the Gogodala swamps. Balimo was the last place I saw him and he was still a Lance Corporal.

At Balimo Corporal Kasari led the investigation into the famous red bicycle heist.

The bicycle belonged to a very feisty little Gogodala nurse at the mission hospital. It was her pride and joy and she was often seen pedalling it at breakneck speed along the muddy road between the mission and the airstrip.

And then one day the bicycle went missing.

The nurse turned up at the sub-district office demanding action. Corporal Kasari was immediately placed in charge and he set out in search of the precious wheely-wheel.

This was a big deal in those days. It was something we counted as a major crime in the Western District, thus its carriage was entrusted to our best policeman.

True to his reputation Corporal Kasari returned to the office an hour or so later with the red bicycle.

It was covered in mud and its front wheel was horribly buckled. The eyes of the nurse flamed red to match her bicycle. She demanded legal satisfaction for this outrageous injustice.

The next day Corporal Kasari returned to the office with two very subdued local men in tow. They were immediately placed in protective custody and interviewed.

The nurse was then summoned for a hastily convened court case.

Corporal Kasari had interviewed each man separately and suggested that it was in their best interests to come clean.

I took off my patrol officer hat and donned my local court magistrate hat and heard the case.

It turned out that the two men had imbibed a few too many SP lagers and on the spur of the moment had decided to take the red bicycle for a joy ride.

They were having a great time. One was pedalling and the other was sitting on the handlebars when they crashed hard into a muddy embankment on the road.

With a badly buckled wheel they couldn’t go any further so they tossed the bicycle into the long grass and staggered off home to sleep off their drunken bender.

The court case went quite well. The two men were cowering in the dock as the nurse threw daggers at them with her eyes and Corporal Kasari explained how he had captured them and convinced them to own up to their heinous crime.

With two guilty pleas I considered a fit punishment. Judging by the expression on the nurse’s face, a public flogging perhaps? Maybe hard labour for life.

One thing bothered me though and just before I pronounced sentence I asked Corporal Kasari how he had identified the miscreants.

He looked me in the eye and said, “My grandmother told me.”

“Your grandmother? I didn’t know your grandmother lived in Balimo.”

“She doesn’t kiap, she’s long deceased and is buried in my home village. She came to me in a dream and told me who had stolen the bicycle, those two men, and I went and arrested them.”

Whoops I thought. Maybe Crown Law doesn’t require that little detail and I put my pen down.

I fined the two men ten dollars each and ordered them to buy the nurse a new front wheel. A suitable compromise I thought.

I don’t know what happened to Corporal Kasari in later years and I only thought about him when I set out to write a book about a fictional policeman many years later.

It was then that I realised how little I knew about him and how little I knew about all the other dedicated and loyal policemen I had worked with and relied upon over the years.

If I could go back in time I’d remedy that dilemma.

Comments

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Paul Oates

You're probably echoing the thoughts of many officers who, with the benefit of hindsight, wished the had more time to think about the lives of the men they led, sometimes into battle.

The symbiosis between Kiaps and their RPNGC men were no different in any officer/other ranks arrangement except in two issues. The first was clearly culture and the efforts our RPNGC police had to bridge between their original culture, the culture they often found themselves posted to and whatever culture their officer/s had been brought up in. That in itself is a pretty tall order and I don't think we will ever understand how much interface there had to be between our police and and the local people or how much this helped in our role. Our two nations therefore owe much to these mostly unsung heroes in blue.

The second issue was that at or around Independence, the whole structure and loyalty shown to Australian Kiaps then had to be transferred to local Kiaps and then very quickly to local officers. The local officers then had to cope with very different conditions and expectations without the mystique of what could only be said was an alien culture.

At the time, we were too wound up in having to cope with a fast changing environment and a different set of rules issued, it seemed almost weekly from Waigani.

It's not surprising therefore that we sometimes find today that what happened to our loyal and brave supporters after we left may be different from what we expected.


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